IT'S the biggest single government investment Warrnambool has ever seen and touted to revolutionise south-west Victoria's healthcare needs for generations.
But no one had more reason to celebrate the state government's commitment to redevelop the Warrnambool Base Hospital this week than those doing their best every day in facilities becoming more stretched each year.
Nurse unit manager Jody McGovern said her workload had vastly increased since she started in the emergency department 18 years ago.
The emergency department along with the operating theatres last received a major upgrade in 1997.
The emergency department was designed to treat about 15,000 patients per year, and with some modifications is now treating about 25,000 a year but unable to fully meet demand.
"I remember, those days where you would come on in the morning and the demand and the workload wasn't that high," Ms McGovern said.
"You would come on and have a reasonably nice shift. You don't have those times anymore. The infrastructure just hasn't grown with the demand."
Those physical pressures are soon to be relieved after a six-year campaign for a stage two redevelopment ended in a $384 million commitment in the state budget.
It follows a $100 million stage one hospital redevelopment in 2010.
"I'm ecstatic and over the moon," Ms McGovern said.
Victoria's Health Minister Martin Foley told The Standard the redevelopment of the hospital would provide for an additional 20,000 patients each year.
"Warrnambool's incredible doctors and nurses deliver world-class care each and every day," Mr Foley said.
"This major redevelopment will ensure families in the south-west can receive the care they need close to home for many generations to come."
The entire redevelopment is expected to be completed by the end of 2026 and will start with relocating the hospital's linen, healthcare supplies and distribution centre to west Warrnambool.
The state government has purchased land at Cooper Street for a new regional logistics hub to house the operations, with construction to commence in 2022.
The move will free up space for construction to start at the Warrnambool Base Hospital on a new clinical tower in 2023.
The four-level tower will be located directly behind buildings constructed during the stage one redevelopment off Timor Street and use the area where the current linen and supply department stands.
Separately from the tower, there will be a new 130-space car park, increasing the current car park by up to 80 spaces and a new production kitchen.
The clinical tower's ground level will have an emergency department with double the space it has today, turning 19 treatment areas into 38.
In emergency there will also be a specialised area for mental health, more pediatric spaces and an increase to the short-stay unit.
Level one will be home to a new 12-chair dialysis suite, along with centralised services for sterilising, a pathology laboratory, a biomedical engineering department and a new health and information department.
On the level above, six full-size operating theatres will shorten wait times and increase emergency surgery capacity.
It's an increase from the three theatres and a procedure suite the hospital has today.
Plans for level three include a new 32-bed ward and a 10-bed pediatric unit, while the top level houses generators, chillers, and air-hanging units.
Executive director of services and development Jamie Brennan said when the work began, the plans were designed to minimise disruption to the hospital's services.
"It won't be as disruptive as if we were refurbishing a current building," Mr Brennan said.
"We can keep the current theatres running while we build these facilities and transition and decommission the old facility."
Operating theatre manager Tony Kelly, a nurse at the base hospital for 32 years, said he had seen the difference an upgrade could make in the past.
"I was here for the last operating theatre rebuild in 1997," Mr Kelly said.
"We saw a lot of changes, more surgery being done, we were able to get more surgery teams and do more emergency work."
But he said the 60 nurses and 30 surgeons and anesthetists in the theatre had felt the region had "definitely grown out of what we shifted into in 1997" particularly in the past decade.
"In order to service the community we have been pushing ourselves pretty hard," Mr Kelly said.
"And we've been able to do that and maintain that, but this will take those pressures off and give us somewhere to go in the future."
This will take those pressures off and give us somewhere to go in the future.Tony Kelly
Emergency medicine clinical director Dr Grace Sousa said the upgrade was needed as the south-west's population grew.
"It's always been a well-run facility. Now the physical environment is going to meet what we have been trying to do from a practical and process point of view for a while," Dr Sousa said.
"This, in the space of one redevelopment, will take us from being a smaller hospital when we are now more of a regional hospital to what we expect in the future of a regional centre.
"So we will become much more tertiary in terms of our care and be able to provide additional sub special service as our population grows."
Nurse Ms McGovern said she was particularly pleased the emergency department would have a specialised area for mental health presentations, with the department seeing "multiple" presentations daily and its safe assessment room often occupied.
"There has been a real increase in the demand in that area," Ms McGovern said.
"It does impact on our flow of the emergency department because they can be in the department for quite some time and we don't have space for that."
She said the redeveloped hospital would draw medical professionals from outside areas. The prospect of construction taking years did not dampen her excitement.
"That's OK," Ms McGovern said. "We've come this far."
A Warrnambool City Council spokesman said the $384 million "would represent the largest in quantum and one of the most significant investments in the history of the city".
Warrnambool Mayor Vicki Jellie said it was the biggest investment in the city she had ever seen.
"They have waited and waited," Cr Jellie said of the hospital team. "Craig Fraser should be congratulated along with the team at South West Healthcare for going with this for the last few years."
She said while improved healthcare was the big win for the region, it also brought economic benefits.
The hospital is the city's major public employer and the redevelopment is expected to create more than 1100 construction industry jobs.
"It is going to be a great facility, it's going to have employment," Cr Jellie said. "You might come to live by the sea but you want those added extras. We have a lot of things going for us."
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